by srosengard

It probably took me five repetitions to engrain the word “multi-tirao” into my new vocabulary. And I’m not sure if you can even find it in a proper Brazilian Portuguese dictionary. Nonetheless, I will try my best to define it here because, in just three syllables, it adequately conveys the way field work gets done on Fazenda Tanguro, my field site over the past few days (fazenda means ranch). 

Oftentimes, dictionaries break down words into their different roots, so I will start with this same approach. First off, just like it would in English , “multi” means many. And indeed, at this fazenda, things exist and proceed in multitudes. I see multitude in the ten or so ripe mango trees that line our row of dormitories, kitchens and labs. I see multitude in the ostrich-like rheafamilies that roam the wide, flat fields of soy and corn. I certainly see multitude in the beetles swarming to my makeshift  laboratory when it is the only bright light on the grounds at night.


These are the rheas who run often through the crop fields in family-sized packs. I can’t remember their name in English. 

Following this track, there is multitude in how research gets done here, as well. While I seek to describe the chemistry of rivers draining through different land types (i.e., farm vs. pristine rain forest), the other scientists stationed here have several other questions to answer. Daniel and Paulo from Sao Paulo, observe how fish grow in similar parts of watershed. Rafael and Junha, also from Sao Paulo, are after the butterflies that live on the ranch, how they respond to forest fires. Paul and Marcia from the Woods Hole Research Center are investigating regional hydrology and soil water chemistry across different land types. Only a multitude of scientists can sufficiently tell the environmental story of Fazenda Tanguro, and perhaps contextualize this one ranch in the greater mosaic of landscape conversion in the Amazon River Basin.


 Taking a soil sample from a soy field.

The next part of my new word is more difficult to decipher: “tirao”. From my limited history speaking Portuguese, I have heard the verb “tirar” used in the context of taking photos or grabbing something. Assuming that the noun “tirao” is derived from the latter meaning, we do a lot of it on the fazenda, as well. All my field work is grabbing. I grab at least one hundred liters of stream water from each field site. I scoop soils from the land types surrounding each stream. The laboratory processing of these samples comes later, and certainly takes up the majority of my hours here. But, it all begins with the act of “tirao”.

Of course, compound words take on new meanings that surpass the sum of their parts. “Multi-tirao” as a whole also expresses a sentiment of teamwork and force. When the full-time Fazenda Tanguro crew helped me take 100 liters of water from a stream flowing through my one pristine rain forest site within a half hour, this was a multi-tirao. (In fact, this is when they taught me the word!) Not unlike my Indian Ocean expedition, field sampling is done best with many helping hands. A hundred liters is not an easy volume to carry, so the multi-tirao saved me a few more hours of energy that I could devote to post-collection processing in lab.